Sharing stories that become family legends |

Sharing stories that become family legends

by Lisa Gavon
R-C Alpine Bureau
Maciej, Ash, Rai, and Ko--photo by Bob and Tera Wattles

Vicious growling sounds woke them from a deep slumber. At their first movement the animals began loud, menacing barks and the entire pack circled their tent. The early morning sun cast large looming shadows of the threatening creatures all around them.

It was long before they were married, and Maciej and Ash were camping deep in the woods with no one around for miles. They rifled through their bags, looking for some sort of weapon to defend themselves. The animals would not back off, getting more vocal and aggressive with each passing moment. They knew they had to do something. There was no one to come to their aid, and it was obvious the bloodthirsty pack would not give up. Armed with a plastic spoon held out like a dagger in front of them, they unzipped the tent flap to go out and fight for their lives.

Chihuahuas! Unbelievable that these little dogs had somehow wandered into the heavily overgrown forest. They yelled at them, and off they went, scampering onto the woods.

We stood out under the stars talking and laughing with Maciej Flisak and Ash Sequoia, married some 15 years now, along with sons Rai and Ko. The boys clamored for more, begging Ash to tell the story of the Youth Hostel.

Maciej and Ash had seen the sign indicating there was a hostel ahead. They knocked, and then opened the door to the next building they saw. A young teenage boy was watching TV on the couch. He did not move or get up, and this was not unusual in the group-style hostels throughout Europe. They settled in, took showers, and started to prepare their food.

After several hours, the front door creaked open and there was the silhouette of a grandfatherly man. He looked from one face to the next, and his voice boomed out. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?!” He yelled at the teenage boy trying to figure out how these people had gotten in their home. The boy, as it turns out, was paralyzed in fear, not knowing how to behave when complete strangers came waltzing into his home as if they belonged there. Maciej and Ash scrambled to get their things, all the while apologizing and explaining they thought it was a Youth Hostel. “Get out! Get out!” screamed the old man, kicking at them with his foot for emphasis.

One never tires of hearing these tales: the kind that can be told over and over, passed down from one generation to the next. Someday Rai or Ko will be regaling their children about the terrifying chihuahuas that had threatened their dear grandparents. I can imagine them adding: “It could have turned out much differently…and you would not be here today.”

Perhaps some of these same types of stories define your own family’s life and history. Tales woven together that illustrate a place, a time, and a reason for being here. They tie us to others with a shared way of looking at life.

In the last decade alone, the Sequoia/Flisaks have lived in San Francisco, then Singapore, and now make their home in Latvia, teaching at the International School which the boys also attend. Maciej has a specialty in math, making sense of the intricacies of numbers, and passing on that knowledge to his students. Ash, a true empath, works individually with the children, being able to see what they need and facilitate their stable and consistent learning. The family ventures out each weekend and every school break. The boys have already visited 25 different countries. Their favorite? Rai chooses the sandy beaches of Java in Bali.

None of the family has a cell phone: a real rarity in this day and age. As well-seasoned adventurers, they have been able to navigate foreign lands where they do not speak the language for decades without the use of electronics. Obviously, another great personal skill that they have passed on to their children.

Latvia has a mosaic of vast forests alternating with fields, farmsteads, and pastures. The dune-covered shoreline borders the Baltic Sea, and inland Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and Belarus surround it. Maciej reports that the cities empty out on the weekends as everyone heads to the countryside. The population has a great love for nature and the outdoors. This is reflected in the beautiful sculptures and stopping places along the trails. Their pagan heritage has been mixed with the influences of Christianity and everything has a magical, fairytale-like quality. The layers of history, with changes both good and bad that the country has endured is remembered and appreciated. Latvia is a highly developed democratic republic with Latvian as the official language. Both Ash and Maciej are taking classes.

Their family cabin in Shay Creek near Grover’s Hot Springs, made manifest by Ash’s parents Bob and Tera Wattles, is the place where they have spent family vacations together. They return each summer.

It is roughly 5,504 miles from Riga, Latvia to Alpine County as the crow flies. But no matter how many miles, the link to Markleeville and the mountains will remain. Sharing time with their grandparents Bob and Tera around campfires and under the towering pines made it easy for them to then fall in love with the enchanting lands of Latvia. Many of us have chosen a hermit-like existence and cannot bear to leave these magnificent Alpine peaks, even venturing into our local town as little as possible. In contrast, these intrepid wanderers bring back the most important gift of all to Alpine: wondrous tales of medieval castles, blazing bonfires, and families that carry their own home with them in their hearts, on whatever part of the planet they find themselves.